Egypt sent a “strongly-worded letter” to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal after seeing its attempts to resolve the Gaza crisis come to naught. The letter demands that Mashaal release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, and Hamas to form a unity government with Mahmoud Abbas:
Egypt has demanded that Hamas immediately release kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit to avoid a worsening crisis in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials and Arab diplomats said.
The Egyptian demand came in a “strongly worded letter” from Egypt’s powerful intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to the Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, the officials said Tuesday.
The letter also demanded Hamas cooperate fully with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in forming a national unity government, a step that has been stalled by the Hamas’ refusal to form an administration that recognizes Israel.
The message reflected increasing impatience with Hamas by Egypt, which has been mediating for months, trying to reach a deal on a prisoner swap for Shalit, who is being held by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza.
Egypt wants an end to the Gaza situation for fairly obvious reasons. One, Gaza’s border with Egypt has become the focal point of escape attempts by Palestinians, a migration that Egypt would prefer to stop. Secondly, the escalation in violence in Gaza fires up the radical Islamists in Hosni Mubarak’s country, a constituency that threatens to undermine his rule. It also puts pressure on his normalized relations with Israel and the aid that generates from the US.
This underscores a split in the region that has accelerated of late. Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait have moved significantly towards the center and away from their more radical neighbors. They want continued trade with the West and a reasonable plan for peace in the Palestinian territories. Syria and Iran want confrontation, the latter in a millenial fashion. Saudi Arabia leans towards the moderates, depending on the time of day, and the rest have decided to wait and see. Even Pakistan, whose military dwarfs almost all of them, wants to recognize Israel when the time is right (via It Shines For All).
If Hamas transforms itself away from terrorism, then the split may soon disappear, but don’t count on that happening. If not, which seems much more likely, then Hamas will soon see a large portion of its political support disappear, and in the case of Egypt, that will have an immediate impact on Gazans. Mashaal had better consider his next steps very carefully.